Before the New York Mets made their Spring Training home on the East Coast of Florida in Port St. Lucie, they called St. Petersburg on the West Coast their home. They opened up camp in their inaugural season of 1962, & played 25 Spring Trainings there through 1987.
AL Lang was a business man, turned politician & Mayor of St. Petersburg from 1916 to 1920. He was the first to see the potential the area had to have baseball teams from the cold North East winters, prepare for their seasons in sunny Florida. Lang was instrumental for making Florida the home of Spring Training & forming the Grapefruit League.
In 1916 the St. Louis Browns practiced there for Spring Training. Eventually the Philadelphia Phillies, St. Louis Cardinals & A.L. New York club all came to St. Petersburg. Over the next decade he was able to lure in nine of the then, twelve MLB teams.
In 1947 the City of St. Petersburg opened up Al Lang Stadium named in his honor, The St. Louis Cardinals & the A.L. New York team were the first to play there. By 1951 the New York Giants joined the party. The A.L. team would play there through 1961, with the exception of 1951 season. The Cardinals remained there until 1997, sharing the facility with the New York Mets during the eighties hey day of the two teams rivalry.
In 1963 the former Crescent Lake Field was renamed Huggins - Stengel Field, named after former Manager; Miller Huggins & then current Mets skipper Casey Stengel. The Mets would practice there & then play their games down the road at Al Lang Stadium.
The area grew through the years to the moder day city it has become. Early on former VP of the Mets Minor League Development & future Cardinal Manger; Whitey Herzog, recalls rarely seeing a woman unfer 50 years old & how the boys went crazy if they did. Former Italian American Player / Broadcaster; Joe Garagiolia remembered taking ferries over to Sarasota, since in St. Pete the only place to really go out at night was the famous Dog Track.
Former Mets World Champion Short Stop Bud Harrelson remembers, being a 19 year old kid in Florida for the first time. Veteran Mets pitcher, Tracy Stallard took him to a dog track even though he still didn't drink or gamble, showing him the ropes of being a big leaguer.
Former Mets coach & Manager Yogi Berra said he knew one of the dog track's owners & had a dog named after him- Yogi Berra.
Bud Harrelson also recalls buying his Superman t-shirts at a small shop in St. Pete, I guess most famously the one he wore after the fight with Pete Rose in the 1973 NLCS.
Eventually the area had many popular restaurants. Early sixties Mets slugger; Frank Thomas said when he was out to dinner with then Mets owner Joan Payson, she ordered a steak & when the waitress asked how she wanted she said- "cut off his horns, wipe him & bring it out".
Mets Hall of Fame Pitcher; Tom Seaver remembers, Huggins - Stengel Field with it's wooden lockers, had an innocence of the 1950's. Seaver loved the surrounding area especially the Yacht Club.
Former Mets manager played there as a member of the Cards & the Mets for many years. He said it was the only place where he ever hit three HRs in a game, including little league. Players remembered if a HR was hit into the Bay, a bunch of kids would dive into the water to chase it.
Many great memories came from these years, this was the same place legendary fictional Mets stars Chico Escuela (SNL's Garret Morris) said "baseball been berry berry good to me in an interview with Bill Murray & Geroge Plimpton's Sid Fynch was born.
It was also the place where in 1975 Cleon Jones got caught up in an affair which started the demise of his baseball career.